There’s a new 800-pound gorilla in the tenkara-room, and it has a name–Patagonia. As you probably know, Patagonia is a huge and well-respected maker and purveyor of outdoor clothing and gear, founded by Yvon Chouinard, a 60’s counterculture pioneer in climbing, surfing, and mountaineering circles. Probably no one on the planet has more outdoor cred. Just go on Youtube and watch the documentary “Mountain of Storms” chronicling Chouinard’s epic 1969 journey with a small group of friends, driving the length of the Pan American highway from California to Chile, surfing and skiing along the way, the trip culminating in a very arduous climb of Cerro Fitzroy in Patagonia.
If you’ve been reading about Yvon Chouinard’s love of tenkara or have watched his video on Youtube or the Patagonia website, you have heard his claim that he has been fishing tenkara for a number of years, having been gifted a “tenkara” rod from Japan by a friend. What makes his style of tenkara fundamentally different from other tenkara advocates is the use of a fixed- length of traditional western-style flyline attached to the rod tip. Certainly this is fixed-line, reeless fly fishing, but is it tenkara? Not having had the opportunity to try this line, I can’t help but wonder how easy it is to keep this line off the water. It would seem that, when fishing freestone mountain streams with multiple conflicting currents, fishing small pockets of slow water, drag on this type of line would be a real problem, just as it is when fishing conventional western flyrods. In his instructional video, Chouinard is fishing a wide river where he can achieve long drifts, mend his line, etc. His advocacy of using wet flies is in keeping with the tenkara spirit of fishing sakasa kebari.
Currently, Patagonia is offering three tenkara rods, an 8’6″ rod, a 10″6″, and an 11″6″. These can be purchased separately or bundled with Patagonia’s proprietary fly line developed with Cortland. This level 0.27″ line has a small hard mono core with a PVC coating. This is supplied in a 35′ length which the user can shorten to his own liking. A tapered 7.5′, 3X leader is also provided. Kits also include Chouinard’s book “Simple Fly Fishing Techniques for Tenkara and Rod and Reel” and a box of one dozen soft hackle flies. Total cost: about $280. One thing that strikes me about Patagonia’s system is the use of a leader attached to the flyline which I suppose one would add tippet. This makes it a bit more complicated than just adding tippet to the fluorocarbon tenkara line.
Patagonia is rightfully known for selling quality gear, and this will no doubt apply to their tenkara rods, too. An excellent warranty is provided.
Chouinard’s endorsement of tenkara presents a dilemma to those who practice more traditional tenkara with monofilament line. The tenkara-verse is pleased to accept the praise of high profile practitioners like Chouinard or Gierach, lending tenkara a good bit of credibility with the skeptical western fly fishers, but what if they put their own spin on it?
Which, in a roundabout way brings us to rod grip. While watching Yvon Chouinard’s video demonstrating his tenkara technique, I was struck by how effortlessly he seemed to cast. His grip is the thumb-on-top variety.
In the four years or so that I have been practicing tenkara I have almost exclusively used the index finger-on-top grip, choking up a bit on the rod handle. This has proven reasonably comfortable and effective. Using the same type of grip but holding the very tip of the rod handle is purported to be perhaps more accurate, although I find it very tiring on my wrist.
On my last outing, I made a point of trying Chouinard’s grip and found it surprisingly comfortable. I sensed more power behind my cast, and the accuracy of the cast did not seem to suffer appreciably. For now, it’s my preferred grip.
I’m planning a trip to Denver in a couple of weeks, and I plan to visit the Patagonia store there. I should have the opportunity to cast their rods, although actually fishing them would be a much better test.
I’ll let you know what I think.